Cuban natives living in Middle Georgia have mixed opinions about the thaw in relations between the U.S. and the communist island country.
Frank Perez, who was born in Cuba and operates a trucking company in Macon, said he thinks the U.S. should have demanded more before normalizing relations.
“I think it’s a big mistake,” Perez said. “The Cuban government has not made any concessions. It’s going to empower the Cuban government to keep clamping down on people who want freedom.”
The Cuban embassy in the U.S. opened Monday for the first time in 54 years.
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As a Cuban citizen, Perez said he cannot visit family there without getting special permission from the Cuban government and paying an additional passport fee. He cited that as just one example of something the U.S. could have negotiated before accepting diplomatic relations.
Alex Vento, a Forsyth real estate agent who was born in Cuba, said he has mixed feelings about the change in relations. On one hand, he said, decades of isolating Cuba has accomplished nothing. But he also said establishing diplomatic relations may not help much until there is a change in Cuba’s leadership.
Vento’s father, who lives in Macon, spent two years as a political prisoner in Cuba for allegedly distributing pamphlets against the Cuban government. Vento’s father spent an additional two years away from the family working “in service to the revolution,” before he was allowed to leave for the U.S., Vento said.
“For my generation, it’s exciting,” Vento said of the changing relations with the U.S. “For my father’s generation, it’s too little, too late.”
Vento said few people he speaks with in the U.S. understand how bad life is in Cuba. The country has the highest ratio of doctors per resident in the world, he said, but those doctors don’t have the medicine they need to actually treat people. Doctors make so little money that they have to come home and do farm work to grow food and survive, Vento said.
“People don’t realize how terrible it is to live in a communist regime,” he said.
If Cuba opened the way for people to leave at will, Vento said “very few” would stay.
Flora Palmer, a waitress at Cuban Island Cafe in Bonaire, is a native of Cuba. She wasn’t optimistic that the lives of Cubans will change anytime soon.
“I wish the system would change,” she said. “Until the system changes and people are free, then what is the point?”
She was able to get out of her country thanks to some family who had already fled to the U.S. She said she gets chills of fear when she thinks about what it would like if she had not been able to leave.
Alfredo Daniel, who works for the Macon Water Authority, was 28 when he left Cuba in the Mariel boatlift in 1980. He was a steelworker in Cuba whose father fled earlier and secured a boat to get Daniel out during the boatlift.
Daniel said he’s optimistic about the U.S.’s improved relations with Cuba. “I think it’s long overdue,” he said. “With good relations, maybe the government of the U.S. can have some influence on the government of Cuba.”